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Why busting early in PKOs might be a good sign

Dara O’Kearney with a paradigm shift about why the early game in PKOs is not about survival like it is in MTTs.

Dara O’Kearney 

If you bubble a lot of tournaments, especially satellites, there is a good chance you are playing them correctly. If you followed Liverpool in the 1970s and 1980s you’ll know they won the most league titles, what you may not know is that they also had the most runner-up finishes. Near misses in both MTTs and football seasons are a sign that you are doing the right things to win, long term.
That is not the case in poker’s fastest growing format Progressive Knockout Tournaments. In PKOs busting out near the money often is not necessarily a good sign unless you tend to pick up plenty of bounties along the way. In fact in PKOs being one of the first players to bust, although very counterintuitive, is often a sign you are playing them correctly. I have a reputation for being a tight player but I am often the early exit in a PKO.
The reason for this is because bounties are worth more early on. Even though the bounties are bigger in the late stages, in relative terms to your overall equity they are worth more at the start. If you win a bounty first hand of a PKO you have immediately won 25% of your equity back, there will almost never be a situation in the late stages where the bounty is worth 25% of what your current equity is.
That’s a fairly big mistake people make, they see the absolute numbers and think the bounties are important to chase, but the reality is they are much more important at the start. They mean you win 25% of your buy-in right away but also having a big stack is really important, because you can win more bounties.
Upside greater than downside

Getting early scalps is massive in PKOs

For this reason, taking risks to cover players at your table is a key strategic adjustment of PKOs. It puts you in a position to win more bounties at a time when they are worth a lot.
At the start of my book PKO Poker Strategy we give a hand example where we show that if two players get all-in the very first hand, the winner wins more equity than the loser loses. This doesn’t happen in normal tournaments, if you win an all-in at the start of a $200 tournament, your equity does not increase by $200, it increases by less than $200 and the remaining equity goes to the other players. This is the foundation of ICM and why you should usually call tighter in tournaments than cash games – the downside of losing is always greater than the upside of winning.
The example we give in the new book is an all-in and a call in a $200 10-person PKO where the loser loses $200 of equity, which is obviously just their buy-in, but the winner gains $224.45 equity, which is $24.45 more than went in the middle of the table. The reason for this is the winner gained $3.06 of equity from each the players not involved in the hand.
The reason for this is because when you double up early in a PKO and cover everyone at the table, you can currently win every single bounty at the table, which nobody else can. Every hand is more profitable to you than it is to anyone else. For that reason there is a real incentive to gamble and take some otherwise -EV lines to win bounties.
A paradigm shift

It goes against conventional poker wisdom to take early risks

We have heard a few people suggest that late registering the 2nd hand of a PKO is a good idea because it means you cover everyone but the player who won the first hand (because everyone else lost at least an ante). This is a novel idea but being the chip leader is so much more advantageous. The above hand example also demonstrates why late registering PKOs in general is a terrible idea, you literally hand EV to the other players and your equity is worth less than the amount you bought in for right away.
A lot of otherwise very good players do not understand this fundamental difference between PKOs and regular MTTs, so they do not realise how valuable bounties are at the start. Other players may conceptually understand it but have spent so long playing a cautious survival-based strategy in MTTs that PKOs are too much of a paradigm shift for them.
Whether they like it or not, PKOs are only going to get more popular and understanding how valuable the ability to win future bounties is an absolute must if you are going to thrive in knockout tournaments.
Dara O’Kearney’s new book PKO Poker Strategy is available on kindle or paperback at Amazon right now. 
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